The History of Makiling Aikido Club and Manolo Villegas' legacy
No one remembers the exact date when Makiling Aikido Club (MAC) was founded by Manolo Villegas Sensei at the foot of Mt. Makiling, the legendary mountain that straddles several towns in Laguna and Batangas from where its name was derived. Even Manolo Sensei only recalls that it was sometime in September 1991 that he began holding Aikido classes once a week for his cousin Greg Mangahas and the latter's friends.
Back then, there was no dojo to speak of. There were no mats. There was no need to wear a gi during the early days of training. What the pioneering students lacked in structural and material requirements, basic necessities when starting a dojo nowadays, they made up for in enthusiasm. And Manolo Sensei matched their enthusiasm with a passion and zeal, driving to Los Baņos every week from his place of work in Dasmariņas, Cavite to train them then return to Cavite in the evening.
As some of the early members once shared, their initiation to the rudiments of Aikido began on the lawn in front of the UP Rural High School across Silangan Road from the St. Therese Chapel in the UP Los Baņos campus. There, the green grass afforded them the opportunity to toughen themselves for all kinds of ukemi that Manolo Sensei demanded from them to learn. For them the ability to take and do ukemi under such condition was a test, not just of strength but of confidence, not just a way to show off but a means to prove that through training one is able to muster the courage to conquer the smallest of fears. Manolo Sensei emphasized the primacy of ukemi because for him a very good uke will be a very good nage. When the rains poured, they would head to the apartment of a friend to train because they knew Manolo Sensei would be there just the same.
The following month, they were fortunate to be accommodated in MA Gym in Plaza Agapita where trainings were held three times a week in a dojo-like atmosphere -- everything was formal and etiquette was observed. There the spacious training hall and the sufficient number of mats on the floor allowed them to practice without holding back but conscious still of the rule that safety is a foremost consideration. The ranks of members swelled. Most of those who signed up to train under Manolo Sensei were UP Los Baņos students with a great number of them being members of fraternities. Such was the membership profile in the dojo towards the middle part of the 1990s.
When Aikido Philippines Inc. was formed in 1992, Makiling Aikido Club, together with Takemusu Aikido Dojo, Shinbu Aikido Club, Makati Aikido Club and Tachi Kaze Aikido Club, comprised its core group.
In July 1994, Eugene Maligalig became the first member from MAC to be promoted to black belt and was designated by Manolo Sensei as his assistant instructor. Eugene Sensei handled the regular Saturday class in MA Gym and would sub for Manolo Sensei whenever the latter would not be able to make it Los Baņos. The following year, 1995, Dante Facundo became the second member of MAC to earn his black belt.
Although it was inevitable that there would be members who would quit, the MAC still attracted new members to join. However, due to a disagreement with management MAC was forced to leave MA Gym, its home for more than three years, in the early part of 1995.
For six months, the MAC was in hiatus until Manolo Sensei announced the resumption of training beginning July 1995 in Villegas Compound beside the St. Therese Chapel where he had built a modest dojo. Training would be held there for the next six years. Manolo Sensei still came to Los Baņos to teach but the primary responsibility to train MAC members had been passed on to Dante Facundo Sensei who was the head instructor from 1995-2001.
In 1998, another instructor was added to MAC's roster of teachers when Paul Olegario Sensei arrived to teach in the UP Los Baņos College of Engineering and Agro-industrial Technology. Paul Sensei came with sterling credentials. He graduated from Tohoku University and was a member of the school's Aikido club where Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba was his sensei. By the first quarter of 1999, four members passed the test for black belt -- Alma Francia Bombase, Richard Encomienda, Jonaz Labastilla and Dino Dominguita. They assisted Dante Sensei in training the members alternating as instructors whenever their respective schedules permit it.
Towards the end of 1999, MAC provided support to the planning workshop of Aikido Philippines Inc. that was held in Los Baņos, making arrangements for the workshop venue, accommodation and food and hosted at its dojo what turned out to be a black belt session of the officers of the federation.
The MAC stayed in Villegas Compound until February 2001 when they transferred the following month to Shapers Family Gym in Los Baņos which has been its home for the past 11 years. Dino Dominguita has stepped into the role and responsibility of teaching the members and managing the activities of the MAC. Manolo Sensei still drops by to train MAC members whenever he comes to Los Baņos for a visit. Such visits not only provide the present generation of members a glimpse of the beginnings and growth of Aikido in Los Baņos from the man who started it but more importantly such visit offers an opportunity for those who have been in the dojo for a long time to reconnect with him and strengthen the ties that bind all of them.
Other members of MAC who reached black belt ranks were Rommel Miel, Jojo Genio, Ted Boado, Russell Celis, Roy Calinga, Arthur Castillo, Rommel Desamero, Phan Minh Quan, Caleb Osborne, Mark Ang, GP Dayan, and Oliver Ocampo. Some of them earned their ranks while training in other Aikido clubs because their respective schedule with work or other causes or that they have relocated elsewhere prevented them from coming to Los Baņos for the regular trainings.
MAC also welcomed another black belt to its fold when Jeff Raņola, a student of Jun Penolio Sensei of Bicol Aikido Zen Dojo in Naga City, relocated in 2009 to work in UP Los Baņos. In 2010, MAC was assigned to supervise the training at the Shin Shin Aikido Club in Biņan City which has been accepted as a new member of Aikido Philippines Inc. Shin Shin Aikido Club is under the leadership of Jong Beleno, Audie Matson, Ian Guanlao and Arnold Patacsil.
In 2011, MAC celebrated its 20th anniversary with a keiko at the UP Los Baņos Copeland Gymnasium with the physical education class of Phan Minh Quan at UPLB's Department of Human Kinetics. It was a chance to look back at its beginnings and be thankful that MAC continues to exist and grow. Like every group, MAC has its ups and downs, especially as far as membership numbers or enrollment is concerned, but it has been lucky to have retained a core group of dedicated members.
The MAC started with no mats, without its own place and without even the exact date or day it began being marked on a calendar. But those who know a part of the history of Aikido in the Philippines know that Makiling Aikido is synonymous with Manolo Villegas. Even its original logo designed by Dante Facundo Sensei bear the first letter of his name. Perhaps it was destined to be that way that no one remembers the exact date of its founding. That is how history is most of the time. But it must be noted that when Manolo Villegas Sensei planted the seed of Aikido at the foot Mt. Makiling, he did not make history, he established a legacy. (Aladdin P. Dominguita, 3rd Dan, MAC)